English - I couldn't put it better

15th February 2013 at 00:00
Reading is for everyone, and you can quote me on that

It's not just books I'm a sucker for, it's also quotes about books. And I agree with Lemony Snicket's comment: "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them."

Personally, I am living out William Faulkner's view that "the books I read are the ones I loved when I was a young man and to which I return as you do to old friends."

But, most of all, I subscribe to Anne Lamott's declaration that "books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave... they show us how to live and die."

Clearly I like books. And my guess is that if you are reading this, so do you. Which brings us neatly to World Book Day and how we can infect the book-shy in our schools with a similar sense of bibliomania. It is worth remembering the bleak and startling statistic issued by the National Literacy Trust a couple of years ago: one in three young people does not own a book.

For many of us - paid-up members of the Literacy Club - that seems unimaginable. We are probably like Desiderius Erasmus: "When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes." We need books.

World Book Day is an opportunity to get books into the hands of young people - to rekindle a spark of enthusiasm in those who have lost the habit of reading.

But how is that best done at secondary level? First, we need to have lots of books - real books - in school libraries. We need a bit of chaos and colour. We need adults in schools to talk spontaneously about what they are reading. And we need a community of readers to show how we celebrate and laugh and talk about what we read; how books permeate and add to our lives.

But there is also something we often do that we shouldn't: institute a regular slot for enforced silent reading with no discussion about the books chosen or the topics. As Ofsted's 2009 English report confirmed, if you are from a background where reading for pleasure is an alien act then being conscripted to read - especially an ill-considered text - is going to reinforce a sense that reading belongs to other people.

If we are going to show and share the joy of reading then it cannot be about isolated reading in authoritarian silence. It has to be about a community of readers. The World Book Day site (www.worldbookday.com) has plenty of ideas.

Because, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, "Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul."

It is a truly wonderful experience. So let's make it infectious.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He is author of Don't Call it Literacy! (Routledge, #163;16.99)

What else?

Promote the value of reading with Mark Cowan's lively poem.


Get your whole school creating extremely short stories using lbrowne's writing template.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today